Wiener Prater17th July 2005
My father brought me on my first visit to the Prater on a trip to Vienna in 2004, and I remember being very impressed with the place. Unfortunately i didn't write a diary at the time, and my recollection stretches no further than that. Consequentially this trip report is likely to be if anything excessively detailed in an attempt to make up for prior sloth.
Our trip began with an adventure tour through the park, looking at several attractions in detail. The first of these was the Wiener Ponny-Caroussel, a truly unique carousel ride towed by eight ponies. Both Andrew and I had distinctly mixed feelings about this ride; on one hand, it was a truly fascinating example of what all such rides must have been like in yesteryear. On the other hand, however, the attraction is cruel to the animals who end up walking around in circles for hours on end. Our tour guide told me that the animals work two hour shifts though this was in direct conflict with evidence from my own eyes, which showed a particularly unhappy looking pony still walking around the ride nearly four hours after I passed it first. The average age of the animals was apparently eighteen, with the oldest being thirty eight years old.
Next, we were taken to the Hochschaubahn, our second scenic railway coaster in as many days. This one was apparently built by a restauranteur who had been unable to compete with a new and larger restaurant which had opened beside his. Fortunately for us he constructed a ride which Andrew referred to as simply "beautiful", and indeed the theming on the attraction was seriously impressive, especially for a ride dating from the fifties. The train passes through two water jets which provided an additional surprise, especially for those with video cameras!
Our tour took us through the structure of the ride, from which we could see the (still original) lift hill mechanism. The guide told us that the huge motor we saw before us could be duplicated in a box the size of a car battery with todays technology. The chain looked like it might have been brand new but was apparently original too, though it has clearly been cleaned recently as it shined like something installed yesterday. The guide also mentioned about the unofficial resident cat, who every night brings back some food for the semi-official hedgehog population.
The next port of call was the Haunted House Jack the Ripper, a haunted walkthrough with some interesting special effects which were supplemented by additional tricks from certain immature club members. One of the best bits was a downward lift with some simulated drops, and an apparent descent which was far deeper than the distance actually covered due to a moving wall effect. At the end of the walkthrough we were led into a small and not terribly effective haunted swing which was nevertheless notable due in no small part to the insane speed of the room rotation.
On exiting, we were shown the ride control room, which had a security cameras located strategically throughout the attraction. There was also a PA system allowing us to address individual areas. This was too much to resist; Malcolm took the microphone for room 13 and announced to one of our startled members "Yvonne! You're going to die!". Unfortunately the system appears to not have been working, as she did not hear the message, but it was still highly entertaining for the rest of us!
The final item on our tour was the Liliputbahn steam train. There are only two such trains left in Austria, and both of them are in the Prater. We were treated to a full twenty minute circuit, which was a pleasant way to relax for a bit. The only negative point was the occasional blast of smoky steam in the face, which to be fair is an occupational hazard of any steam train with unenclosed carriages. During the trip both Andrew and I received an education in the details of autopsies from Lisa, which was informative if slightly gruesome. When the journey came to an end, we were shown the maintenance shop for the trains. Apparently none have ever broken down, predominantly due to preventative maintenance performed by those for whom it is a labour of love more than anything else.
We asked our tour guide if he could ask the Dizzy-Mouse operator to flip the pin on the reverchon-built ride to allow the car to spin throughout, as none of us had anything like enough German to ask ourselves. The operator said, however, that it was an automatic system he couldn't change (it isn't, but never mind). We still managed probably the most extreme spinning I have ever seen by loading Darren and Linz in one side of the car and Andrew and I in the other.
Someone had suggested that the Boomerang wasn't a rough model. They were quite wrong about that, though it was interesting due to the addition of a tunnel half way through the course. We followed this up with Megablitz, probably the best coaster in the park and a real surprise, given its status as a Vekoma built ride.
It should be noted at this stage that every ride in Prater Park has its own admission fee, and none are particularly cheap. It was refreshing therefore to find that the Space Shot, though still five euro, provided four full ride cycles for that money. Better yet, the ride was one of the better models with a nice burst of airtime at the top.
Prater is home to numerous dark rides including several ghost trains. The first of these was moderately entertaining but not particularly good given the cost. It did, however, have one scene with a falling skeleton which made Andrew jump out of his skin, much to my amusement. Next to it was what remains my favourite attraction in the park, the Star Flyer. The ride, a seventy metre tall wave swinger, provides spectacular views of the city and the park below while being mild enough for the whole family to enjoy.
The second ghost train we tried was a definite improvement on the first. It had a very different style to the one we had already tried and indeed to every other such ride I have ever seen. Instead of illuminated scenes, this one had various startling faces that appeared directly in front of riders before being knocked away by the oncoming vehicle. Possibly the best bit was an effect found midway through the ride, where a dimly lit bridge appeared to collapse with the riders right in the middle of it.
I had been advising everybody on the trip that the Volare was certainly in contention for the title of the worst roller coaster in the world. Nevertheless, I agreed to ride it with the rest of the group. This turned out to be a mistake which I would end up paying for for the rest of the afternoon. Forget about square wheels on a coaster; the Volare might as well have rectangular ones. It is possible from the ground to see the cars banging viciously from side to side as the victims on board scream in pain. It is a mystery to me why any park buys one of these rides; one can only assume that the potential buyers have not tried existing models first.
After an obligatory trip on the Blumenrad ferris wheel for photography we hit the third Ghost Train of the day, the Ghost schloss. This had the best effects so far, with a particularly amusing event at the end where the operator startled me with a rather hideous mask.
The Super-8-Bahn ride had degenerated quite noticably since my previous visit, though it was still worth riding.
The Blue Planet attraction was an interesting experience which we almost had to skip, as the operator had no change whatsoever, and none of us did either. This was in spite of the talking animatronic dinosaur by the entrance which asked us, in multiple languages, to come in and ride! Fortunately there were five people in our group, allowing me to hand over a twenty euro note to cover admission for all of us, claiming back the money from the others later in the day. On going through the door we discovered another spectacular walkthrough, with some of the most impressive artificial scenery I have ever seen. The sole means of crossing was wobbly rope bridges, although these had been carefully guarded to prevent people falling off sideways. Mid way through the ride was a small simulator with a german soundtrack I couldn't follow, and the experience completed with another lift of the style seen in the Jack the Ripper attraction earlier in the day. The end of the descent had quite a clever trick which I'm not going to spoil here!
On my previous visit to the Prater I had not bothered to ride Der Zug de Manitu, the child sized powered coaster. I would not have done so today had not several members of the group been interested in trying it, and all things being equal I would have missed a fun ride. The train started off in reverse, which none of us were expecting, before reversing direction for a number of forward facing laps punctuated by a number of special effects, ranging from lighting to dry ice. The ride was surprisingly intense for its size, with one particularly sharp directional change half way through the small enclosed course.
The final remaining coaster in the park was the other mouse ride, Wilde Maus. This one had a rather odd paint scheme, with half the track painted green and the other half painted a deep purple. I couldn't make up my mind as to whether this was a) deliberate, b) a half completed paint job, or c) parts from two different rides assembled into one. The latter choice seems improbable given that the layout was identical to every other Maurer built mouse I have ridden, although it could I suppose have been from two other mice broken up for spare parts.
We had a delicious dinner in the Schweizerhaus restaurant. Fortunately for us they had copies of their menu in English, and even more helpful we had a waiter who spoke our language.
After the meal, most of us decided to go back for a final ride on the Hochschaubahn. Andrew chose to sit out the ride and instead attempted some photography. He succeeded in taking a truly awful photograph of himself which he insisted I delete. I reluctantly complied, thinking at the same time that it might be useful as blackmail in future years.
It was approaching time to leave at this point, but we all felt that it would be criminal to end a visit to Wiener Prater without at least one circuit on the famous Riesenrad ferris wheel. The tickets were expensive, at €7.50, but Andrew managed to purchase one at the child rate which helped a little - and he's certainly well able to act like a 14 year old! My digital camera is utterly hopeless in low light situations rendering most of my attempted photographs utterly useless, though more by luck than judgment I was able to get a few decent shots. The speed of the wheel was such that we ended up cutting things fine, but in the end we were back at the coaches with about two minutes to spare.